By Jack Ciattarelli
Prohibiting voters from choosing how to cast their ballots in this year’s general election isn’t just the latest example of Governor Phil Murphy’s push for increased government control of our lives, or his continued abuse of my-way-or-the-highway Executive Orders. No, it’s more than that. It’s proof that the science he cares most about is his political science.
Need proof? Well, after telling us for months that he always follows the data and listens intently to the experts, why then is Governor Murphy ignoring them when it comes to voting?
Earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s chief infectious disease expert, said that he sees “no reason” why Americans should avoid voting in-person so long as social distancing guidelines are followed. I agree.
Folks, the right to vote is as sacred a right as we have as Americans. It is the cornerstone of our representative democracy and what allows us to settle our political disputes peacefully.
Let me be clear. I am not opposed to voting by mail. I want every registered voter to cast their vote. I just firmly believe the Governor should respect the wishes of a great many people who prefer to cast their vote in-person and allow them to vote the way they are most comfortable.
A competent state government should be able to run elections safely and count all the votes fairly and in a timely fashion. But after thousands of unnecessary nursing home deaths, unacceptable delays in providing unemployment benefits, a continuing mess at motor vehicle agencies around the state, and an unemployment rate that is 3.5% higher than the national average, it is becoming increasingly clear that Phil Murphy’s government is something less than competent.
The concern goes even further, however. In the City of Paterson, criminal voter fraud charges forced a municipal election to be thrown out. And an independent analysis revealed one in every 10 people who mailed in ballots had those votes rejected. Clearly, there is ample evidence for everyone to see that moving forward with an all vote-by-mail general election is problematic. Everyone but Phil Murphy.
Case in point, according to news reports, July 2020 primary ballots were thrown out nearly seven times more than in the 2016 primary. Adding to his long list of outrageous remarks, Murphy called this “a very good result.” No, Governor, disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters is anything but a good result. No one should be disenfranchised, and that includes those who feel strongly about casting their vote in-person.
Folks, in the 2016 Presidential election in New Jersey, more than 4 million ballots were cast. That means if we had a repeat of the 10% rejection rate from the May municipal elections, we could see more than 400,000 New Jersey voters disenfranchised because of a system that simply isn’t prepared to effectively conduct an election exclusively by mail. The reality is that conducting elections universally by mail takes years of planning, not a few weeks. Oregon first adopted vote-by-mail for some local elections in 1987, and then ran eight different state-wide special elections between 1993 and 1999 before deciding to use vote-by-mail for the 2000 presidential election.
If Governor Murphy were serious about expanding mail-in balloting, he would do it responsibly. Instead, he’s letting his politics drive his decision-making. He should immediately check his politics at the door and restore the right of voters to cast their ballots as they see fit in this year’s election.
Moving forward, here is a responsible approach I, as Governor, would take to modernizing our elections system in New Jersey:
• Purge voter rolls of inactive voters regularly. A recent report that the NJ Division of Elections categorizes 428,556 eligible voters as inactive is a troubling sign about how woefully outdated our voter rolls truly are. Instead of waiting at least two consecutive federal elections to pass before a voter is considered inactive, we should cut that down by purging anyone who hasn’t voted in four consecutive years. People can be notified by mail of the pending purge. If they want to remain on the rolls, they would be required to inform County election officials.
• Work with election officials to come up with a workable plan that allows limited in-person early voting at machines prior to Election Day. This would ease potential lines at polling places and provide more options to voters unable to make it to the polls for one reason or another.
• Require photo identification from all voters at the polls before they cast their vote. To remove any concern about the availability for photo identification among those who don’t drive, the state should make an official photo ID available to all residents who want one at no cost to the individual. For voters who choose to vote by mail, they would need to certify their identify to elections officials in advance of receiving a mail-in ballot.
Through reforms like these, we could make voting more accessible, safer, and less costly than mailing six-plus million ballots to voters across the state, including millions who want to vote in-person.
Common sense solutions like these take leadership and vision. Unfortunately, we don’t have that. What we have is Phil Murphy.
JACK CIATTARELLI (R-16) is a businessman, former State Assemblyman, and Republican candidate for the 2021 gubernatorial nomination.